Dear Timothy: Pursue faithfulness above all else in your life and ministry
Dear Timothy, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The last time I wrote you, recall that I sought to stir up your mind by way of reminder, to use the words of our dear brother Peter, that you must find your contentment in Christ alone, else you…
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The last time I wrote you, recall that I sought to stir up your mind by way of reminder, to use the words of our dear brother Peter, that you must find your contentment in Christ alone, else you will be habitually frustrated in your ministry. Remember, that was my first watchword for you in the ministry: contentment. Today, I write to you and commend to you a second, equally vital, watchword: faithfulness.
My dear brother in Christ, the world will try to press you into its God-denying mold when it comes to gauging your success in ministry. The world, and perhaps a good many well-meaning but carnal-minded people in your congregation, will tell you that for your ministry to be considered a success, you will have to exhibit regular conversions to Christ, have a lakeshore lined with candidates for baptism and possess attendance numbers that increase astronomically overnight within your congregation. They will seek to sell you on the notion that those are the marks of ministerial success, and you may be allured by such cheap reasoning. Don’t buy it.
While we certainly desire healthy church rolls and want to see untold numbers experience the effectual grace of Christ, you must remember that conversion and church growth are God’s business. (Recall what happened after Pentecost when God added more than 3,000 to his church in one day? Wasn’t that glorious?) Those may be measures of what God is doing in your ministry, but not necessarily. Recall the false prophets I have warned you about, the ones who have roiled the church in Ephesus, and remember also those super apostles with whom I contended at the church in Corinth? They were gaining quite a following, and who among us would assume that the fruit of their false teaching was healthy?
Timothy, God is not calling you to be omnipotent, for you are merely a weak clay pot, common, expandable crockery. God is not calling you to be omniscient, for all men are ignorant to such a degree that James had to remind us that him who makes plans without considering God’s sovereignty is sinfully presumptuous. God is not calling you to be omnipresent, for you minister in vain if you seek to be everywhere all at once out of a sinful fear of man. God is not calling you to please men, for men are fickle. The church members who are today praising you are just as likely to be calling for your ouster when your ministry threatens to upset the peace within the kingdoms over which they occupy the throne. He is not calling you to earn their praise. You must please him alone. God is not calling you to fear men. You must fear him. If you will fear God and nothing else and hate sin and nothing else, God may turn the world upside down through your ministry.
No, God is calling you simply to be faithful. He is calling you to be faithful in feeding and leading his flock. Remember, it is his flock. It is his kingdom, not yours. You have been called to build it, by his grace, faithfully. What does such faithfulness entail? It’s not going to look like that which the world calls “success,” and you must settle this notion in your heart and mind now. God has called you to faithfulness in preaching his Word, being ready at all times to proclaim his truth. Forsaking all else, God has called you to set the oracles of God before the people of God to the glory of God every Lord’s Day. Do not worry about results. Results are God’s business. He has called you to faithfulness in studying to show yourself approved, a workman who is able to rightly divide his Word. That will always be priority one: Many hours in study and prayer will establish you in this crucial endeavor. He has called you to be faithful in guarding the gospel he has deposited into your care, which means you must know sound doctrine and teach sound doctrine. He has called you to be faithful in refuting false doctrine as well. Therefore, my dear son, you must work hard to be a pastor/theologian. That is an irreducible part of faithfulness in ministry. Studying God’s Word and learning theology are hard work, but such labors will pay dividends into eternity, for this is the way God, in his infinite wisdom, has ordained it.
So God is calling you to be faithful in guarding your doctrine, but he is also calling you to be faithful in keeping a close watch over your life and conduct, what Solomon in Proverbs calls “guarding your heart with all vigilance.” Though you are young, you must be faithful in living out the theology of grace that has been given to you through God’s Word. Will your people find your theology compelling if the theology you claim to hold dear has had little discernible effect on your life? How can you commend grace to others if you are not willing to live a godly, gracious lifestyle? A man of grace must be a gracious man, a wise and godly sage once told me.
You must be faithful in asking God to form those character traits in you that I passed down to you in another letter, traits that God gave me as qualifications for his undershepherds. You must be a faithful family man, loving your wife as Christ loved the church and training your future children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You must petition our Lord for daily grace in being sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, and gentle. You must plug the ears and shield the eyes of your heart to the deadly lure of money, and you must be able to teach and debate the truth with others in a gracious and winsome matter. Living out these attributes by God’s grace and praying that God will bear the full range of the fruit of his Spirit in you are all a part of what it means to be a faithful herald of God’s Word.
And you must persevere in faithfulness even when war has broken out all around you in the ministry. Remember, you are a soldier of Christ. Until our Lord returns, you will be at war, not at peace. Thus, you must fight the good fight of faith on behalf of yourself and your people. You must persevere in loving the members of your congregation, even those irascible, incorrigible souls who withhold love from you and defame your good name to others. Remember what I told the church at Corinth: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. You must love them with the kind of selfless love that compelled our Savior to the cross.
Timothy, no matter what the world tells you, no matter what well-meaning church people tell you, if you do all these things consistently, you will then be a worker approved by God who need not be ashamed, no matter the size of your church or the scope of your ministry. You will adorn the gospel, your message, with the sweet aroma of Christ. I close with the same words of encouragement that I told to the Corinthians, for it is a helpful summary of the Christian man’s call to faithfulness: Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
There is much more I could say, but I pray this pithy encouragement will steel your frame toward the pursuit of faithfulness. May God make you content in his Son and faithful to the end in proclaiming his Word and shepherding his flock for his glory. May our invincible sovereign Lord make his face to shine on you and your labors. Grace be with you.
Faithfully your father in the faith,
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014). Jeff and his wife Lisa have four children.